postmodern churches

8 March, 2006 at 11:34 pm 6 comments

Have a look at Blind Beggar. There's a post entitled "Ten Distinctives of Postmodern Churches". I couldn't agree more! We've just had two courses at the Windermere Centre on and Emerging Church and Multimedia Worship. I found that the stuff in the latter that I resonated most with was the material that engaged with the tradition – the Celtic and Latin traditions, for example. Makes me glad I'm part of today's church and not that of 20 years ago!


Entry filed under: emerging church.

his bobness: what would the boy say to the man? touching down on word press!

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leo  |  23 May, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    but were there not postmodern churches 20 years ago? 50? longer? I agree with many of the statements in the ‘top 10’: using narrative passages, being open to spirituality, using technology, living and worshipping as a community – but I have seen all these things in many different churches over the years (whether the latest technology was considered to be a microphone and an electric guitar or whether the presence of the Holy Spirit was focussed on using Gregorian chanting!) Equally, I have seen churches in which NONE of these have been present so, a question: how many of the 10 do you have to achieve? is there a minimum number (is it 10!)? and, if you could have only one, which one would you consider to be the most important?

  • 2. Lawrence  |  26 May, 2006 at 1:47 am

    I think it’s the “package deal” element that makes it postmodern, Leo, rather than any one or combination of several of the items on the list. I do think, though, that there is a new emphasis on things like experiential worship which actively engages outside Christian church culture. That is true, too, of being unashamedly spiritual and preaching narrative sermons. My own take on this is that postmodern fragmentation means that Church is far more of an identifable subculture than it used to be. The cultural boundaries are far less permeable than they used to be. Spirituality is far less automatically expressed in institutional church involvement than used to be the case. I guess a different title would have been “10 things that traditonal church culture finds alienating”. Or maybe I’m pushing something unjustifiably?

  • 3. James  |  5 June, 2006 at 9:47 am

    I am intrigued by the proliferation of lists to help us identify the emerging church but it seems very unpostmodern to attempt a definition of emerging church (although it had to happen). I wonder also about the emphasis on community, Gibbs and Bolger’s book Emerging Churches for example, includes liquid churches whose members hardly ever meet face to face and residential communities (there is a great breadth there- can liquid church be live community?). A further concern you might be able to address is the EC’s connection to technology(which I don’t doubt) because I have come to understand technology as aggravating our postmodern alarm. In the world of global communications pomos are afraid of insignificance and isolation yet technology seems to isolate us a further separate us from any meaningful connection. In Albert Borgmann’s Crossing the Postmodern Divide he argues that the transformative power of postmodernism is indoubt partly because it has failed to resolve the ambiguity of individualism. Anyway, there are a few of my jumbled thoughts I pray you can make sense of them and would be most interested to hear your opinions.

  • 4. Lawrence  |  7 June, 2006 at 10:20 pm

    Hi James. Thanks for the comments – very perceptive! I’m not convinced that the primary attempt is to define emerging church so much as to describe it. Certainly my greater interest is in the latter. The problem with “capturing” anything “post-” in a definition is that it is always clearer what it is not any longer and where it has come from rather than what is has become and where it has arrived at. So my own “definition”, such as it is, would be something along the lines of “communicating effectively with people who have nothing to do with traditional church”. It means making effective connections for them between their own spirituality and Christian faith. If you like, it has something profoundly to do with taking its orientation from where people outside the Church are, rather than asking them to come and conform to what is readily seen and understood as Church.

    That means that “emerging church” is, in large measure, a matter of self-description and self-definition. That seems to me to be the issue about “liquid church”. The key is that people involved regard themselves as being “church”. I’m happy with that. It’s part of learning again the lesson that the earliest (Jewish) church ahd to learn so painfully: “church” is not something we have control of, and it certainly doesn’t have to look like “us” or how we’d make it.

    There are issues about “real” community and contact. But how real is “real”? That is the question posed by technology and virtual reality. The internet means that there is real communication, sharing and relationship – often as much and more than among people who meet face to face regularly. Virtual reality is not unreal. It is real – but one step removed. The most intimate senses are not engaged. But in every other sense, it is real. It is certainly as real and more immediate often than, for example, letter or phone. I’m far less pessimistic about technology than you appear to be. Yes it has problems and creates problems, but it is also a boon. It means that people who are physically or psychologically housebound, for instance, can and do have a rich life of communication and friendship with the outside world. It is intimately tied up with the knowledge explosion and particularly with the “global village” in which we all live. We are far more knowledgable about and appreciative of the wider world, and that is a good thing. So I’m not convinced that we are separated from meaningful connection. If anything, I think the weight of evidence falls the other way – or can. Technology provides far more opportunities for meaningful connection than it prevents.

    Postmodernism is in many respects radically individualistic. If one looks at the emphasis on constant self-(re)invention, and the notion that the net makes every person the ultimate arbiter of truth, then postmodernism is ultimate individualism. Yet what has disappeared with postmodernism is the drive to recreate the world in our own image. That drive is not communitarian. It is about cloning. There is no sense in which we ever expected the world to become like us – rather just a small section – but large enough to confirm us in our view that “I’m alright – and everyone else isn’t!” There is a very attractive postmodern interest in and fascination with people who are not like us that I find far less individualistic than modernity.

    But why should we demand that postmodernism resolve the ambiguity of individualism? That’s a tall order! One significant contribution it seems to me that it does make to the difficulties that have been with us since the Enlightenment is that it has broken the stranglehold that rationality has had since that period. Rationality is not the key to truth and knowledge that it has too long been supposed to be. Postmodernity gives space for play, imagination, beauty and the spiritual – and all of those are communal. If there is a necessary connection between radical individualism and Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum, then we’re better off now than we were then.

    My thoughts, for what they are worth, James – and given in the hope of further discussion! Lawrence

  • 5. Craig  |  8 June, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    The link between emerging church and technology is an interesting one – and as I reflect upon it I realise that it has always been so. The 16th Century Emerging Church from which our Reformed Tradition has come, did so on the back of a new technology called the Printing Press – suddenly people had access to the Scriptures in their own language and they met together to discuss what they were learning – at the same time they produced pamphlets which could be widely distributed so that their discussions could be shared further afield and from their discussions emerged a new type of Church.

    in the last twenty years we have lived through probably the biggest change in communication media since that time. Could any of us have imagined that we can each be sitting in our own homes/offices/trains/cafes and share in an instant global discussion – it is staggering, awesome. Hence now we can have deep theological debates or inane chats with people we will never meet and call it community and perhaps even call it church. I really value being able to do this – I want some background reading for Sunday and I sit here reading various opinions on the Trinity, i want to have a chat about the value of 4-4-2 against 4-1-2-1-1 and there are people who will discuss it with me, I need to know train times to Manchester and there they are – amazing. But I would prefer to have this discussion face to face, to be able to listen and see and hear and laugh and share a pint or two – is that a generational thing – I watch my son conducting 4 MSN discussions at a time (whilst supposedly revising for exams!) and he calls these people he has never met friends and it has more reality for him than it seems to have for me. We are too close to it – in a hundred years time people will reflect on our times and see how from this communication revolution a new type of Church emerged – we need to live it and try it and trust God and trust ourselves. What we do know is that new styles of church have always involved people in relationship with God and with one another – it may well be that from now on these relationships will be conducted at a distance – I suspect that will feel more normal to my children than it does to me – yet through t’internet I have had more meaningful discussions with people who I have never met than I have the people across the road who I nod to but have never spoken – that is a world which horrifies my older church members who grew up knowing everyone in the village.

    At the moment we are trying to bridge the gap – often working in churches with people who have lived here all their lives and regard the inhabitants of next village as rather odd whilst engaging in this strange global discussion.

    I’ve rambled enough – glass needs a refill

  • 6. James  |  30 June, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my observations,
    True, my attitude to technology may seem rather pessimistic but I am a child of this age and I grew up with technological sophistication. I watched as the tallest slides were removed from parks because they were considered dangerous and children increasingly turned indoors to be entertained (safely) by the box in the corner of the room. I remain concerned that one step removed means that some of the whole person cannot be transalated through a screen… it makes people less than whole and arguably encourages psychological dependency. I totally agree with your later remarks about modernity and postmodernity creating space for play, imagination, beauty, and the spiritual (although I am alarmed by the recent church of england report into young peoples attitude to spirituality). I think that technology can be a good thing but radical re-invention is not real it is surreal people cannot become their on screen image thus a gap emerges between who we are and who we imagine we are (do you see the danger in that?), our expectations are moved, and our dependency on machines is increased because they seemingly fulfil our expectations. However, I do not think technology ever really answers the questions pomos are asking, who am I? what is my purpose? does life have any meaning? I am a huge supporter of postmodernism and critical of modernity but I could never be considered an uncritical participant (nor would I want to be). I am unconvinced by your argument about the Jewish church, church is called into being because of God it has to have certain marks (i.e. a random meeting in the pub is not church). I am concerned that postmodern individualism, facilitated by technology, makes nonsense of what Bonhoeffer calls the cost of discipleship. I am aware that such a comment is an exaggeration, but can you see the point? We now live in a time of reduced intimacy in which we can decieve ourselves and one another more easily than ever before, surely the church should do more than simply capitulate to that? I don’t know what the answers are to these questions but I feel the need to search for answers (maybe I just cannot escape the modern desire for control).


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